A phrase commonly heard around photography sites is “storage is cheap”.
Five or 10 or 20 years ago, storing your digital images (either from digital cameras, or digital scans of film negatives) needed much greater investment, whether for the memory cards in digital cameras, or the hard drives or cloud storage you used to back up the photographs.
However, a quick look on Amazon UK tonight shows a SanDisk Ultra 64GB SD card at around £14. Which, with perhaps a typical image size of 4MB, means 16,000 images on one card.
A 1TB Toshiba external HD is about £40. Which would store a quarter of a million 4MB images.
My current Google plan offers 100GB of storage for £1.59 per month. I currently use 14GB, which includes photos and other Google products like GMail, Docs, Sheets etc.
My Flickr costs about £3.28 a month. I currently have 5000 images, uploaded over 10 years. This plan is unlimited, so would still cost £3.28 even if I had kept and uploaded every image I had ever made. Which I would guess goes into hundreds of thousands.
All of these storage options seem eminently affordable, and so on the surface, having cheaper storage appears to be reason to celebrate.
Put another way, we don’t have to worry about spending a small fortune to be able to save and store our photographs.
The problem with such cheap storage however, is how complacent, even lazy, it makes us.
Having much larger and more affordable memory cards, where we can store 1000s of images before needing to download them, means we’re less discerning about the images we do store on them.
And, I would argue, with more capacity, there is less incentive to download them as often, meaning when we do, the greater volume of images to organise, edit, process, tag and share, makes us more likely to be overwhelmed and not bother.
So we just dump them wholesale on a hard drive or in the cloud, to be dealt with at a later date. Which of course never comes.
In contrast, if you only had a card that allowed you to store say 50 or 100 images at once, it’s almost certain that you would take more time over each composition, making sure you only captured photographs really worth capturing.
Not 17 near identical variations of the exact same scene.
Then when you did download those 50 or 100 images to a hard drive or the cloud, you would likely spend more time organising them, because you’d be able to do it in a reasonable time frame, not the hours and hours that thousands of images would take.
It’s no coincidence that one of the most popular reasons photographers return to film photography is because you only get 24 or 36 shots on a roll of 35mm film.
It slows you down, makes you more focused, and increases your perceived value of every image you make – because every image costs real, tangible money, to buy the film, then have it processed and scanned.
Let’s move beyond memory cards, and consider online storage.
With the cloud being cheaper than ever, it means we back up everything, rather than editing down to keep only the very best of our work. Including those 17 sprayed shots of the same scene.
As mentioned above, Flickr for example offers unlimited storage for around £3.28 a month so we could quite easily stored hundreds of thousands, if not millions of images there, made over a period of years.
And then because we’ve stored so much, when we do return to browse the photos, again we become overwhelmed by the thousands of images dumped there.
It becomes like scavenging on a rubbish tip, hoping desperately to find a discarded treasure amongst the ever expanding trash mountain.
We likely stumble across those 17 shot clusters and wonder whey we took even one image of that composition, let alone nearly 20.
All of this serves to diminish your own confidence as a photographer.
If you keep every shot you take, but only one in a 100 is great (a reasonable hit ratio I would suggest), then when you rummage back through your old images, you have a 99% chance of finding something that isn’t much good, and certainly doesn’t reflect what you’re capable of as a photographer.
But if you kept only that one in a hundred that you loved, when reviewing your past work every image is going to be a winner, and encourage you to seek out more photographs of a similar (and higher) standard.
You see yourself as a much better photographer because (like all the great photographers) you’ve edited down your work and presented only your best to the world.
Master photographers such as Alfred Stieglitz or Henri Cartier-Bresson are famous for what, perhaps a dozen photographs? Do you think they only made those dozen photographs in their lifetimes and everything they touched was gold?
No, they made thousands, tens of thousands, even hundreds of thousands of images, and presented us only with their best.
But we see them as masters of their craft.
It’s much the same story if you use physical hard drives as a back up. Because they’re so big, you don’t think about being careful of what you save.
How many TeraBytes of hard and cloud storage are now virtual graveyards of images their creators will never unearth again? I would suggest this number is multiplying at an exponential velocity daily.
Using 35mm film cameras from 2012-17 meant I knew all too well the cost of every frame of film. I simply couldn’t afford to be frivolous with my photography.
Fortunately, even though I don’t shoot film any more, that frugality of shooting carried over back to digital.
A typical 60-120 minute photowalk results in anything from 20-75 photos. I would say 40-50 is about average, which by no coincidence is around the same as the roll or two of film I used to shoot in the same timeframe.
I don’t need 32, 16, even 4GB cards. With older cameras I mostly use 512MB or 1 or 2GB cards (SD and Compact Flash) and I can’t recall a time I filled a card before I was ready to stop making photographs.
I download the photographs after every photowalk, and they sync to my Google Photos, so they’re ready to edit on my phone, iPad or MacBook in the coming days. As they’re deleted from Google Photos, again it syncs and deletes them from my MacBook, so I’m just left with my favourites.
At the end of each month I have perhaps a couple of hundred photos remaining, not thousands or tens of thousands.
And I know that each of the photos have been reviewed and kept for a reason, not just because the storage space is so cheap.
I know I could still be more discerning with my photography, and I still delete far more images than I keep. It’s something I hope I continue to improve.
But even if/when it does, what I also hope is that I avoid the potential perils of cheap storage, shooting and filling up storage space with thousands of images I’ll never look at again.
How about you? Has the increasing affordability of storage influenced how you shoot, edit and save your photos?
Please let us know in the comments below (and don’t forget to tick the “Notify me of new comments via email” box to follow the conversation).
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